Joe Arpaio, performance artist

by on Jun.18, 2011

I’m in Minneapolis at Netroots Nation, the lefty bloggy conference affiliated with Daily Kos that’s in Minneapolis this year. Yesterday, I was on this panel: Educate, Agitate, Inspire: How Artists are Fighting Anti-migrant Hate, a panel about the anti-migrant crackdowns in Arizona and more generally about the role of culture and artists in progressive change campaigns. The all-star panel featured Gaby Pacheco, who walked from Miami to Washington D.C. to raise awareness of the Dream Act; Javier Gonzales, the organizer in charge of The Sound Strike, the AZ musicians boycott initiated by Rage Against the Machine, and artist Favianna Rodriguez, founder of Presente.org. She did the poster on the left, which you can buy by clicking on the image.

I began my section by saying that there’s been an incredible cultural worker who’s dominated the cultural change campaign in Arizona–the only problem is that he’s on the other side. Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio is the performance artist of the decade.

* When he rounds up Latino men, he strips then and forces them to wear bright pink underwear and march down the street in gold handcuffs. Not only does this emasculate them, but you can even buy the underwear later, autographed by him.

* He has a tank. He has raided people’s houses using the tank and Steven Seagal.

* He often rounds up parents and leaves behind the kids, who are devastated. To make up for this, he bought the police force teddy bears, which they’re required to give to the kids who’ve been left behind.

(Some day I’ll write a longer essay on Arpaio as artist.) Last year Arizona deported about 20,000 migrants, including about 13,000 minors who are deported without children. And lest you think that anti-migrant racism is something that only happens in Arizona, Secure Communities is probably turning law enforcement into immigration officers in your state too. Read Tom Berry’s now classic article on Arizona.

I talked about WordstrikeThe Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s writer engagement project designed to counter SB1070. The project began last summer, when we got 300 writers to sign a petition boycotting Arizona, including Junot Diaz, Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad, Chang-rae Lee, John Waters, Francine Prose, Russell Banks, Naomi Klein, Sandra Cisneros, and many others. We’re going to send 20-30 writers and artists to Arizona this fall to create a cultural movement that will generate a pro-immigrant messages. We believe that writers and other creative workers can reach the public when they’re in a “pre-political” state in a way that’s categorically different from traditional organizing. Wordstrike’s been run primarily by Jeff Chang, Favianna, Verso Editor Andy Hsiao, and myself. We’ve had to think about issues like the nature of political art, role of the artist, and ethical engagement between an artist and local communities. More on this when we get a redesigned Wordstrike site up, but in the meantime check out Jeff’s article Culture Before Politics.

I also talked about another Workshop project: Open City: Blogging Urban Change, our anti-gentrification blog that sent five writers/urban-ethnographers to Manhattan Chinatown, Sunset Park, and Flushing. Recent posts include: an anthropology of karaoke spaces, information graphics on the surge of arts groups moving into LES/Chinatown, a profile of CAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. The idea behind Open City is that the Internet can be used not just as a vehicle for a disembodied transnational technocracy, but more anthropologically present people’s stories in a highly granulated, rich way. Anyways, take a look, leave comments on the Open City blog and sign the Wordstrike petition!

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Jeff Chang’s article is really worth reading. Thanks for all these links.

    Johannes